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Emet m'Tsiyon

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

George Antonius, the Arab Nationalist as British Imperialist

George Antonius has a big reputation as a reliable historian of Arab nationalism. This reputation has been shattered and shredded by the research of Elie Kedourie, Sylvia Haim [Mrs Kedourie], and George Kirk. And others. Antonius, like T E Lawrence and Lowell Thomas, helped to create a romantic fable of resurgent Araby.

Antonius' reputation has benefitted from a long series of lies, not all of them of his own making, some originating from his admirers and the politically interested promoters of Arab nationalism, both Arabs and non-Arabs. However, most critical researchers have avoided confronting one of the big lies in the mythology surrounding Antonius. That is, that he was somehow a Third World revolutionary, an anti-imperialist, and all those other Good Things, an Edward Sa`id avant la lettre. Few things could be further from the truth, except that Sa`id was most likely a faker too in a way not much different from the Antonius form of fakery.

Antonius was an enthusiastic, sincere and unashamed British imperialist. He didn't hide it. Let's look at the evidence. He was awarded the respected British imperial honorific, the CBE, by the King in the 1920s. CBE stands for Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Is that enough? Well, let's go on. One of his friends, Thomas Hodgkin, who worked in the British administration of the Land of Israel under the Mandate in the 1930s, wrote that Antonius was disappointed in the CBE. Not because he was an anti-imperialist, but because he had hoped for a more prestigious decoration: the CMG, Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George.

Next, he was born in Dayr al-Qamar in southern Lebanon to a Greek Orthodox family and brought to Egypt by his family as a child. British rule had made Egypt a place with more public order than heretofore and therefore, a place where energetic people could prosper by developing cotton raising, commerce, and industry. In other words, George's father was a settler, a colonist in a country under British occupation. Moreover, he chose a British education for his child, sending him to Victoria College [which ran up to high school] in Alexandria. Victoria College seems to have been named after Queen Victoria, an imperialist if there ever was one. Upon graduation, George went on to Cambridge where he is said to have done well. Coming back from Cambridge after World War One, he obtained a position as the deputy chief censor for the British administration running the Egyptian postal service. Now, does this register? Here Antonius was the deputy chief censor for the British imperial rulers in Alexandria. Does this position qualify George as an imperialist? Nor, incidentally, was he a "Palestinian" Arab, despite the moronic and deceitful mystique makers [Kimmerling & Migdal, for instance].

In 1920, he took a trip to the UK to raise funds for his alma mater, Victoria College. Yet Victoria College was a colonial institution, n'est-ce pas? In the early 1920s he came to Israel, then under British mandatory rule, to take up a position as a high level civil servant in the British administration. In fact, he considered himself more British than Arab, and even after writing his famous fable about Arab nationalism, The Arab Awakening [1938], he continued to associate closely with British officials and to feel tremendous admiration for Britain and the Empire.
Sir Gilbert Clayton [Brigadier Clayton] and George Antonius (in white suit) with King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud (center), Jedda circa 1925. Ibn Sa`ud had conquered the Hijaz [western Arabia] from the Hashemite family in 1925 with the consent of his own British agent, H St John Philby [father of Kim]. The Sa`ud clan had ruled the Najd [or Nejd = central Arabia] prior to that. In 1925, the House of Sa`ud set up what came to be called in 1927 The Kingdom of Hijaz and Najd. The kingdom did not take on the name Saudi Arabia until 1932.

In the 1920s, he took time out from his service in the administration to go off on diplomatic missions with British officials, such as Brigadier Clayton [Sir Gilbert Clayton], who needed his help in negotiating with Arab potentates. It was 1930 when Antonius left the British mandatory administration in Israel and went to work for the New York-based Institute for Current World Affairs, probably at higher pay. This Institute was the creature of a super-rich American, Charles R Crane, who may have been the model for the Daddy Warbucks character in the Little Orphan Annie comic strip. Crane had been an American diplomat in China and was sent to the Middle East by President Wilson after WW One as part of the King-Crane Commission. No less interesting for Emet m'Tsiyon is that Crane was a fanatical Judeophobe, perhaps much like Henry Ford, another multi-millionaire Judeophobe much admired by Hitler. Crane met Hitler and was favorably impressed. Through his employee George Antonius, Crane met Haj Amin el-Husseini [al-Husayni], the British-appointed mufti of Jerusalem, he too an admirer of Hitler. Antonius dedicated his book, The Arab Awakening, to Crane, whom he nicknamed "Harun al-Rashid." The dedication explicitly says "affectionately."

Crane gave funds to the Mufti in order to support the so-called Arab Revolt in Israel in the mid-1930s, which Horace Samuel described as a "Revolt by Leave," in the title of his book on the subject. Crane hoped to unite the Muslims and the Catholics against the Jews. This was Antonius' employer to whom Antonius dedicated his book, "affectionately." Horace Samuel called his own book, Revolt by Leave, since he showed how the British administration in Israel worked for the success of the "revolt."

During the Holocaust, Husseini, so admired by Antonius and Crane, lived in Berlin under Nazi protection and urged the Germans to kill more Jews faster. In Jerusalem, before separating from his wife, Katy, Antonius lived in a home rented from Husseini and called Karm al-Mufti [the mufti's vineyard]. This house was the locus of the joint social life of Arab notables and intellectuals and high British officials in Jerusalem. This was Katy Antonius' famous salon, where few Jews were invited. Antonius died in 1942 but his wife continued her salon. One of her guests at the salon, who seems to have stayed later than others and maybe often did not leave until the morning was General Evelyn Barker, the high commander of British-occupation forces in Israel. At any rate, some of Katy and Evelyn's romantic correspondence has been published. Apparently he heartily hated Jews.

About two hundred yards down the street from Katy's home in Jerusalem, Karm al-Mufti, was the poor Jewish neighborhood of Shim`on haTsadiq built next to the tomb of Simon the Just. Arab terrorists, called "irregulars" in those days, attacked the neighborhood in December 1947. Most Jews fled before the end of December, however, one family --then called Mizrahi, now Qedmi-- stayed for about another week and a half. They fled in the first ten days of January 1948. This neighborhood was the first residential area in Israel where the inhabitants fled and could not return after Israel's War of Independence. The area was eventually taken over by the Transjordanian Arab Legion, commanded by British General John Bagot Glubb, called Glubb Pasha. Jews were forbidden to live in Transjordan, later called Jordan. The driving out of the Jews of Shim`on haTsadiq is not mentioned by the many apologists for Antonius, who was their neighbor, geographically at least.

For reliable info in Antonius' career and politics, and critiques of The Arab Awakening, see below:
Fuad Ajami, Dream Palace of the Arabs (NY 1998)
F W Brecher, "Charles R Crane's Crusade for the Arabs..." Middle Eastern Studies, XXIV (January 1988).
Adeed Dawisha [search the Internet, do a google: "adeed dawisha" + "george antonius"]
Isaiah Friedman, book review by Friedman in Israel Affairs, 2002; book by Friedman, Palestine, A Twice Promised Land, reviewed in Israel Affairs 4, 1 (Spring 1999); same book by Friedman also reviewed as below by
Michael Fry (reviewing Friedman) in Israel Studies, 7, 1 (Spring 2000)
Elliott A Green, "The Curious Careers of Two Advocates of Arab Nationalism: A Sidelight on the History of an Idea," Crossroads (Jerusalem), no. 33 [1992]
Sylvia Haim, "The Arab Awakening... " in Die Welt des Islams n.s. II (1953)
Elie Kedourie, England and the Middle East... (Hassocks, Sussex, 1978)
________. The Chatham House Version and Other Middle Eastern Studies (London 1970).
George Kirk, "The Arab Awakening Reconsidered," Middle Eastern Affairs, XIII (1962)
Martin Kramer, "Ambition's Discontent: The Demise of George Antonius," in U Dann, The Great Powers in the Middle East. . . (New York 1988).
Martin Kramer, "Ambition, Arabism, and George Antonius." [on the Internet- click on article's name]
Liora Lukitz, "The Antonius Papers and the Arab Awakening . . ." Middle Eastern Studies, October 1994.

ADDED BIBLIOGRAPHY 3-21-2007 Link to history of "Christian Zionism" to which Antonius' patron, the pro-Nazi Charles R Crane was opposed, as recounted here.

Here are a few references to authors who knew him personally and wrote about him, usually favorably:
Vincent Sheean, A Personal History ( Boston 1969)
Freya Stark, The Arab Island (New York 1945)
________. Dust in the Lion's Paw (New York 1962)
Christopher Sykes, Crossroads to Israel (London 1957)

But our cake would not be complete without a cherry on top. In keeping with the low standards of so many fashionable, recent publications dealing with Israel and the Arabs, and in the spirit of the Arab mystique --and its late offspring, the "palestinian" Arab mystique-- that Antonius himself did so much to create, supported by Charles Crane's money, one Susan Silsby Boyle has written a fairy tale or fable for adult children in the guise of a biography of George Antonius. The book is full of lies and significant omissions, but it is entertaining, if you know what the lies are. It is the kind of book that you can take to bed for a laugh, or, if you take it at face value, it is rather like a three-hankie tearjerker movie, starring Rosalind Russell perhaps. So, in the spirit of keep 'em laughing and don't trip over the low level of academic research embodied by the book, here is the title:
Susan Silsby Boyle, Betrayal of Palestine: The Story of George Antonius (Boulder 2001)
- - - - - -
Coming: Jews in Jerusalem, etc.


  • I love your postings. Ever since I have found your blog on the net, your have become my guide to the Israeli/Jewish history.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:26 PM  

  • Thanx Anon. But why don't you give yourself at least a screen name --un nom de l'ecran; ou un nom de reseau-- so that I know which Anonymous is reading the blog?
    Thanks again.

    By Blogger Eliyahu m'Tsiyon, at 11:38 PM  

  • Elyahu, please tell me more about how Crane and Antonius crafted the myth of the "Palestinian". I'm well aware that the concept of a distinct "Palestinian" arab was completely rejected by the moslems until Arafat started the PLO for propaganda reasons and renamed the "Arab/Israeli" conflict the "Palestinian"/Israeli conflict in the mid 1960's.

    Highly informative post, BTW.

    By Blogger Mad Zionist, at 11:52 PM  

  • Dear MadZ,
    Antonius did not consider himself an Arab when growing up. In fact, in a letter to high ranking British personalities in 1920, he described the population of Egypt as comprising several nationalities, including "native Egyptians" [rather disdainfully]. But he did not mention Arabs at all. He seems to have considered himself British rather than Arab. Maybe in 1920, he would have recognized that his family came from "Syria" which is what Lebanon was usually considered part of in those days. So he may have acknowledged a "Syrian" origin but considered himself more British than even Syrian. He did a great deal to invent or promote the notion of a resurgent Arab nation, especially through his famous book, The Arab Awakening, written while he was on Crane's payroll and dedicated to Crane.
    However, if I gave the impression that he invented "the palestinian people" notion, then I did not mean to do that, except that his propaganda for an "arab nation" glided into the "palestinian people" notion. There is really a lot in common between the two notions. Now, who did invent the "palestinian people" notion? I am convinced that these "inventors" were British psychological warfare experts, probably including Christopher Mayhew, if you know who he was. I DO NOT believe that the "palestinian people" was invented by Arabs, nor that it was an organic outgrowth of the situation of Arabs living in refugee camps, and all the crocodile tear stuff that the Judeophobes weep over for the Arab refugees, now conveniently renamed "palestinians."
    You understand that the very use of the term "palestinian people" was meant from the time of that notion's invention to undermine our rights in Israel.
    As to Antonius' book, it claimed that Britain had betrayed certain promises to the Arabs, but at the same time it was full of praise for the British. At the same time it was hostile to the French who were the great rivals of the British in the 1920s and 1930s. Ben Gurion too reported that Antonius told him that together the Jews and Arabs could push the French out of the Middle East and help establish a British hegemony for the whole ME region. So he was specifically anti-French and pro-British.
    Shalom & Best Wishes

    By Blogger Eliyahu m'Tsiyon, at 7:48 PM  

  • MadZ,
    Antonius published his book in 1938 and died in 1942. The "palestinian people" notion didn't appear as far as I know until the early 1960s, when it was consecrated, as it were, in 1964 with the founding of the PLO. I believe that psy war operatives were working on the notion starting in the late 1940s, because of certain hints in some British books. But it is not the kind of thing that they're goind to tell you about until it's work is finished. And we're still alive. So the work isn't finished. There is a lot of good circumstantial evidence for my theory, but little direct evidence. Which is what you might expect.

    By Blogger Eliyahu m'Tsiyon, at 12:03 AM  

  • Thank you, Eliyahu. The answers you gave were very informative. I am fascinated to see the history of the evolution of the random moslem multitude into this sudden artificial "Fauxnistinian" people we see being swooned over by liberal imbeciles today.

    By Blogger Mad Zionist, at 7:41 AM  

  • Fauxnistan, I like it.

    By Blogger Eliyahu m'Tsiyon, at 9:04 AM  

  • Eliyahu:

    Do you have GoogleEarth coordinates for (a) the Antonius House, (b) the exact point of the attack on the convoy and (c) the route taken by the convoy on that day?

    Also, it would be very interesting to see what Katy Antonius looked like... do you know of any site(s) with a photo of her?


    By Blogger Josh Korn, at 11:45 PM  

  • Josh, haven't used google earth yet. It sounds interesting. If you are in Jerusalem on the ground, there is a monument at the site of the massacre of the Hadassah Hospital convoy with the names of the 78 victims. It is at a double-bend or dog leg in the road, the road to Mount Scopus. The old Jewish quarter of Shim`on haTsadiq is very nearby. Jews have moved back into those old houses by the way, refurbished and now with indoor toilets, etc.

    The rather elegant Nashashibi House is across the street from the monument. The rich Nashashibi family left the house at an early stage in the war, probably in December 1947 or January 1948, and came back after the area was safe for them again.

    The European Onion compound is very close to that location too.

    As to Katy A. I would much like to see what she looks like. What attracted General Barker to her?? I'm too busy nowadays to look up her pix but I would be mighty grateful to you if you find her pix and let me see it.

    Best Wishes,

    By Blogger Eliyahu m'Tsiyon, at 1:02 AM  

  • Eliyahu:

    I "walked" past the monument this morning, courtesy of Google StreetView. Saved a bundle on the air fare, too.

    There's a nugget about Katy that I didn't know about until I read Simon Sebag Montefiore's "Jerusalem: A Biography" last month.

    What attracted her to "Bubbles" Barker was apparently their common visceral hatred of Jews. In one of her letters to him, she wondered out loud why they could not openly say they hate the Jews. Her landlord, Haj Amin al-Husseini, would have been proud.

    By Blogger Josh Korn, at 7:26 PM  

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